Fist Fight in Heaven – Review

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With the severity of the Native American plight, escapism is a very realistic and practical defense against misery. This is quite evident in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. In this novel, Alexie captures an elaborate depiction of reservation life. The characters are terminally suspended in the abyss commonly known as the Spokane Indian Reservation. As Alexie catalogs their hardships, the characters of the novel indulge in the comforts of alcoholism and unbridled imagination. Through alcoholism, the character Thomas Builds-The-Fire uses the depths of his own creative mind to hide himself in the past.

There is a commonality among the reservation Indians in the novel that centers on alcoholism. The men and women of the Spokane Indian Reservation see their world largely through a thick, alcoholic haze. Drinking is a powerful defense against the stark reality that nothing ever changes on the reservation. In this state of shared depression, this familiar stupor, the reservation Indians cloak themselves in sorrow. If the characters were unable to mend their hardships in reality, through alcohol they most certainly could bend their perceptions of truth. There are several instances throughout the novel in which Alexie describes alcoholic experiences as a positive means of escape. For example, in All I Wanted To Do Was Dance, Victor looks over to his drunken parents and “Everything was familiar and welcome. Everything was beautiful” (87). The warmth of the alcoholic embrace was apparently comforting to Victor, and he goes on to say that his father would “sit with a cooler of beer beside him…his bad breath and body odor covering me like a blanket.”(26). In Every Little Hurricane, Victor depicts his father drinking in a dream; Victor describes the alcohol as “near poison” and a “reservation tsunami”, using very negative connotations. Yet, Victor also portrays his Father as being bold while drunk, with statements like “[He] wasn’t shaped like a question mark…more like an exclamation point” (6). Victor reflects in hindsight that “He thought one more beer could save the world.”(88). So, throughout the novel, Sherman Alexie perpetuates this duality of notions toward alcoholism.

Though alcohol brought release, it also leeched away the sweet vitality of the reservation Indians. In the novel, drinking only serves to ruin relationships, twist lives and magnify their difficulties. Sherman Alexie brings this reality into full view by coupling this theme with every drunken interlude. For example, “I…wished I was drunk enough to pull the trigger” (43). “I got drunk…so I wouldn’t be scared.”(112) and “With every glass of beer…he began to understand too much about fear and failure” (134). These passages indicate not only the reality of such a grim comfort but also a continually deteriorating cycle within the Spokane Indian society.

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Alas, Babylon – The End of the World is the Beginning

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ALAS, BABYLON by Pat Frank. This is a great American classic about the struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s like the AMC’s The Walking Dead minus all the zombies. The story is set in the late 1950s when the United States was deeply entrenched in the Cold War against Soviet Russia. The book begins moments before a nuclear war between the two nations, but this isn’t an action thriller. The nuclear fallout seems to miss a few pockets of humanity, one being the tiny Florida town of Ft. Repose. The story is really about Mark Bragg, a man trying to keep his family alive against the ever-present threats of bandits, starvation, and radiation.

“You see, all their lives, ever since they’ve known anything, they’ve lived under the shadow of war – atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal. All their lives they have heard nothing else, and they expect it.” (Helen Bragg to Randy Bragg, Chapter 4, p. 84).

This is one of the most frightening quotes of the novel. It is, unfortunately, true for those who grew up during the Cold War. We were taught that a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was all but inevitable, and we were taught how to respond (Civil Defense fallout shelters in the basements of large buildings and the famous “Duck and Cover” films). For those of us who grew up in the Cold War, the abnormal (the ever-present threat of nuclear war and its aftermath) was normal. The Bragg children, Ben and Peyton, for whom the “abnormal” had become the “normal,” seem to have less trouble accepting and adapting to the new realities of life than did the adults.

4) “…The struggle was not against a human enemy, or for victory. The struggle, for those who survived “The Day”, was to survive the next.” (Chapter 6, p. 123).

No one, at least in the novel’s setting in Florida, ever saw an enemy soldier. There were no invaders or foreign troops to fight. The military fight was in the hands of the U.S. military. For the people of Fort Repose, the fight was not against an invader with a sickle-and-hammer insignia on his sleeve, but simply to survive. This was, by far, the hardest fight and one whose outcome could not be predicted. This is one of the major themes of the novel: survival.

Revisiting The House on Mango Street

It’s been more than 10 years since I first read – The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Yet in light of Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants, I thought I’d revisit Cisneros’ punchy little novel about finding a sense of belonging. The House on Mango Street is written in an episodic style in which the author uses punchy little vignettes to illuminate the main character, a young girl named Esperanza.

Donald Trump recently issued statements saying that Mexican immigrants are mostly drug dealers and rapists. He’s gotten a mixed bag of feedback from his comments, but I think he is neglecting to recognize everyday people like Esperanza. Yes, she is a fictional character, but born out of the mind of a very real person – Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street opens a window into the mind of a female Mexican immigrant growing up in America. She deals with issues that any young girl would face: an evolving sexuality, feelings of abandonment, and a desire to be free. Yet, when I talk to other readers, people seldom remember that this book is also about social responsibility. Esperanza, the child, wanted to leave Mango Street and everyone else behind. As she grows older, Esperanza identifies more with her community and wants to help sustain it. She strives to engage specifically with other women in the neighborhood to give them a sense of empowerment and support.

That doesn’t sound like Donald Trump’s vision of Mexican immigrants at all. Maybe he should revisit The House on Mango Street.

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